January 11, 2017

Displaying Its Experience in Crunch Time, PU Men’s Hoops Weathers Storm to Beat Penn

ANSWERING THE BELL: Princeton University men’s basketball player Amir Bell dribbles the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, junior guard Bell had 12 points and four rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench to help Princeton defeat Penn 61-52 in the Ivy League opener for both teams. The Tigers, now 8-6 overall and 1-0 Ivy, host Brown on January 13 and Yale on January 14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton University men’s basketball team jumped out to a 39-18 lead against visiting Penn early in the second half last Saturday evening, Mitch Henderson knew that game was far from over.

“It just felt like to me a Penn-PU game,” said Princeton head coach Henderson, who starred for the Tigers in the late 1990s.

“I have been in quite a few of these things. They were doing all kinds of stuff, whatever it took and we were trying to do the same.”

Sure enough, the Quakers rallied, going on a 26-5 run to knot the game at 44-44 with 7:01 remaining in regulation in the Ivy League opener for both teams.

“They make this great run, making some tough shots,” said Henderson “I knew that all of those shots were going in.”

Henderson called a time-out at that point in an
effort to stem the Penn tide. “I was trying to keep everyone calm, it was a hell of a run,” said Henderson. “It is really hard to come back and win but that one had all the marks of a team that was going to. It was swinging really heavily their way.”

With snow falling outside, Princeton weathered the storm inside, outscoring Penn 17-8 down the stretch to pull out a 61-52 win before a hardy crowd of 2,814 at Jadwin Gym as it improved to 8-6 overall and 1-0 Ivy.

“I really think Devin’s shot broke the ice for us and then we were able to get one stop and that three in the corner was huge,” said Henderson, referring to a jumper from the corner by Devin Cannady that put Princeton up 46-44 and a three-pointer from Myles Stephens 33 seconds later that made it a 49-44 game.

“We really regained our footing and found a way to get it done. I am really happy for our guys and pleased with a good win to start the league.”

Cannady acknowledged that some defensive lapses by the Tigers helped Penn find their way back into the contest.

“We lost some shooters, they shoot the ball well and they have some guys who can work inside and really attack,” said Cannady.

“They have good shooters and when that is the case, you have to have your hand up and contest the shot as much as possible and we weren’t doing that.”

Picking up the intensity at both ends after Penn made it 44-44 proved key for the  Tigers down the stretch.

“It was just buckle down on defense, get stops and run kids off the line,” said sophomore guard Cannady, who scored a team-high 16 points in the win.

“We have been there before. We rep in practice those situations so when it was tied we decided to just play.”

No matter what the situation is, Cannady is confident the Tigers can come through.

“We just stay together; we all know that we are a unit,” said Cannady. “Whether we are up 21, down 21, or tied, it is stick together and keep playing basketball the way we know how to play and hopefully we will end up on top.”

Junior guard Amir Bell was proud of the way Princeton kept things together in the face of the Penn surge.

“We just did a great job as a team when they made that run,” said Bell. “I think we had that type of fortitude to stick with everything.”

Showing fortitude, Bell came off the bench to score 12 points and get four rebounds in 24 minutes of action.

“I just tried to come and be aggressive,” added Bell. “I tried to help the team win in any way possible.”

Henderson was pleased with the way his team started the game as it built a 34-17 lead at halftime.

“I thought we played really well in the first half; the guys were really focused on what we needed to do to stop them,” said Henderson.

“The guys did a great job. It is a very difficult team to guard, they have been playing very well, they are much improved.”

In Henderson’s view, Penn’s guarding ended up making things difficult for Princeton.

“I thought they did a good job of changing things defensively,” said Henderson.

“They gave us some interesting looks and it affected what we were doing. Our shot selection got a little worse which then affected our transition defense and they made some really nice plays. I don’t think we were doing anything different; they were making plays. They outplayed us.”

Over the last seven minutes of the contest, Princeton used its experience to make the difference.

“I thought we made some really big plays down the stretch that we needed to make, basketball plays,” said Henderson, whose team will look to keep on the winning track when it hosts Brown (9-7 overall) on January 13 and Yale (8-5 overall) on January 14.

“It was the seniors, Spencer (Weisz), Steve (Cook), and Pete (Miller). Even though Steve didn’t play a whole lot of minutes, he had that and-one, understanding that you need to go to the rim. It takes the tension out of the game. Spencer is calming me down during the game. This is a senior driven league.”